Sedevacantism: A Brief Explanation

by Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas

The following article was originally written in 1992, yet it has never before been printed in The Reign of Mary. This brief article is an excellent synopsis of the reasons why so many traditional Catholics have concluded that the Chair of Peter is vacant today. Although it was written during the “papacy” of John Paul II, it applies equally well to Francis.

What is Sedevacantism?

Sedevacantism is the theological position of those traditional Catholics who most certainly believe in the papacy, papal infalli­bility and the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, and yet do not recognize John Paul II as a legitimate successor of Peter in the primacy. In other words, they do not recognize him as a true pope. The word sedevacantism is a compound of two Latin words which together mean “the Chair is vacant.” Despite the various arguments raised against this position — that it is based on a false expectation that the pope can do no wrong, or that it is an emotional reaction to the problems in the Church — the sedevacantist position is founded on the Catholic doctrines of the infallibility and the indefectibility of the Church and on the theological opinion of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine.

Why Attend the Traditional Latin Mass?

As an introduction to this article, let the traditional Catholic first ask himself why he is a traditional Catholic. Why does he not attend the Novus Ordo Mass? Why does he reject the teachings of Vatican Council II on Religious Liberty and Ecumenism? Why does he reject the new code of Canon Law (1983) in which under certain circumstances schismatics and heretics may, without an abjuration of their errors and a profession of the Catholic Faith, be administered by a Catholic priest the Sacraments of Penance, Extreme Unc­tion, and Holy Eucharist? If the traditional Catholic answers the first question correctly, he would state quite simply that the New Mass is without a doubt a danger to his faith and that due to the radical changes in the Offertory and Consecration, it is question­able whether transubstantiation even takes place. In answer to the second question, the traditional Catholic would properly state that the teachings found in Vatican II decrees on Religious Liberty and Ecumen­ism have been condemned by previous popes, in particular by Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors. Lastly, to the third ques­tion, the traditional Catholic would surely answer that such a law in the new code can never be considered as true and binding legislation since the sacraments would be sacrilegiously administered to heretics and schismatics.

Richard, enjoy my life!, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What were the consequences of the Second Vatican Council?

How appropriately did the late Arch­bishop Marcel Lefebvre on the occasion of his suspension a divinis by Paul VI write the following reflection on June 29, 1976:

“The Conciliar Church is a schismatic Church, because it breaks with the Catho­lic Church that has always been. It has its new dogmas, its new priesthood, its new institutions, its new worship, all already condemned by the Church in many a docu­ment, official and definitive.

“This Conciliar Church is schismatic, because it has taken as a basis for its updat­ing, principles opposed to those of the Catholic Church, such as the new concept of the Mass expressed in numbers 5 of the Preface to (the decree) Missale Romanum and 7 of its first chapter, which gives the assembly a priestly role that it cannot exer­cise; such likewise as the natural — which is to say divine — right of every person and of every group of persons to religious freedom.

“This right to religious freedom is blasphe­mous, for it attributes to God purposes that destroy His Majesty, His Glory, His Kingship. This right implies freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, and all the Masonic freedoms.

Stephan Kölliker, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Church that affirms such errors is at once schismatic and heretical. This Conciliar Church is, therefore, not Catholic. To whatever extent Pope, bishops, priests or faithful adhere to this new Church, they separate themselves from the Catholic Church.”

Let the traditional Catholic, espe­cially the members of the Society of St. Pius X, ask themselves to what extent have the Pope, bishops, priests and laity adhered to this new Church which would, as Arch­bishop Lefebvre reflected, separate them from the Catholic Church. John Paul II completely adheres to the Conciliar Church. He enforces the Novus Ordo Mass and false teachings of Vatican II. He promulgated the New Code of Canon Law (1983). He has boldly practiced false ecumenism and heretical religious indifferentism in Assisi, Italy, on October 27, 1986, by the atrocious convocation of all the false religions of the world to pray to their false gods for world peace!

As unpleasant as this subject may be, traditional Catholics are confronted by the terrible and burning questions:

Is the Conciliar Church the Catholic Church?

Is John Paul II, as the head of the Conciliar Church, a true pope?

The sedevacantist would unhesitatingly and unequivocally say no.

To believe otherwise, to answer yes to the above questions, would be to imply that the Catholic Church has failed in its purpose, that the Church of Christ is not infallible and indefectible, that the Pope is not the rock upon which Christ founded His Church, that the promise of Christ to be with His Church “all days even to the consummation of the world” and the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, have failed the Church — conclu­sions which no traditional Catholic could ever maintain. Consider the following quote from Vatican Council I (1870):

“The Conciliar Church is a schismatic Church, because it breaks with the Catho­lic Church that has always been. It has its new dogmas, its new priesthood, its new institutions, its new worship, all already condemned by the Church in many a docu­ment, official and definitive.”

Arch­bishop Marcel Lefebvre on the occasion of his suspension “a divinis

“For the Fathers of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, following closely in the footsteps of their predecessors, made this solemn profession: ‘The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true Faith. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Who said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18), should not be veri­fied. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied, and its teaching kept holy.’ …for they fully realized that this See of St. Peter always remains untainted by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord and Savior made to the prince of his disciples, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou has turned again, strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22:32).”

Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Satis Cog­nitum, taught that the Teaching Authority of the Church can never be in error:

“If (the living Magisterium) could in any way be false, an evident contradiction fol­lows; for then God Himself would be the author of error.”

How can a traditional Catholic on one hand reject the New Mass, the heretical teachings of Vatican Council II, and the New Code of Canon Law (1983), and on the other hand, continue to recognize as pope the very one who officially promulgates and enforces these errors?

To consider yet another question, is the faith and government of the traditional Catholic the same as John Paul II and his Conciliar Church? Do traditional Catholics believe the same doctrines as John Paul II and his Conciliar Church on the New Mass, false ecumenism, and religious liberty?

Are traditional Catholics subject to the local hierarchy and ultimately to Rome?

Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ, taught:

“It follows that those who are divided in faith and government cannot be living in the one Body such as this, and cannot be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.”

Are traditional Catholics united or divided in faith and government with the Conciliar Church?

The sedevacantist honestly recognizes that his faith is actually not the same as that of John Paul II and his Conciliar Church. As a traditional Catholic, the sedevacantist believes and professes all the teachings of the Catholic Church, and this profession of the true Faith includes a rejection of the false teachings of Vatican II (“all already condemned by the Church in many a docu­ment, official and definitive” — Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, June 29, 1976).

The Conciliar Church is a schismatic Church, because it breaks with the Catholic Church that has always been. It has its new dogmas, its new priesthood, its new institutions, its new worship, all already condemned by the Church in many a document, official and definitive.

— Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre  June 29, 1976

During the first prayer of the Canon of the traditional Mass which begins Te igitur, the priest in normal times would recite una cum papa nostro N. (one with our pope N.). What significance does this short phrase convey — una cum, one with? One in faith, one in government, one in the Mass and Sac­raments — united — this is the significance! Can a traditional priest honestly recite in the Canon of the Mass that he is una cum John Paul II? In what is he una cum John Paul II? In the Conciliar teachings, in government, in the official New Mass and Sacraments — is he actually una cum?

Is it Possible that the Pope teaches error?

One last consideration on this subject of sedevacantism is the manner in which all these things have come to pass. When did they take place? How did they take place? This is an area in which sedevacantists themselves differ. Some hold that the papal elections were invalid based on the Bull of Pope Paul IV in 1559, Cum ex apostolatus:

“If ever at any time it appears that… the Roman Pontiff has deviated from the Catho­lic Faith or fallen into some heresy before assuming the papacy, the assumption, done even with the unanimous consent of all the Cardinals, stands null, invalid and void; nor can it be said to become valid, or be held in any way legitimate, or be thought to give to such ones any power of administering either spiritual or temporal matters; but everything said, done and administered by them lacks all force and confers absolutely no authority or right on anyone; and let such ones by that very fact (eo ipso) and without any declaration required be deprived of all dignity, place, honor, title, authority, office, and power.”

“If (the living Magisterium) could in any way be false, an evident contradiction fol­lows; for then God Himself would be the author of error.”
Pope Leo XIII, “Satis Cognitum”

Popular Graphic Arts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some sedevacantists quote the Code of Canon Law (1917) in Canon 188 No. 4:

“All offices shall be vacant ipso facto (without a declaration required) by tacit resignation… #4 by public defection from the Catholic Faith.”

Others hold the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine in De Romano Pontifice (Chapter XXX):

“The fifth opinion (regarding a hereti­cal pope) therefore is true; a pope who is a manifest heretic by that fact (per se) ceases to be pope and head (of the Church), just as he by that fact ceases to be a Christian (sic) and a member of the body of the Church. This is the judgment of all the early Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction.”

Pope Innocent III as quoted by the theo­logian Billot in his Tract. de Ecclesia Christi, p. 610:

“The faith is necessary for me to such an extent that, having God as my only judge in other sins, I could however be judged by the Church for sins I might commit in matters of faith.”

Suffice it to say, the issue of the pope is a difficult one, an unpleasant one, and a fright­ful one; yet it is a necessary and important issue which cannot be avoided.

In conclusion, let it not be said that the sedevacantist rejects the papacy, the pri­macy, or the Catholic Church. On the con­trary it is because of his belief in the papacy, the primacy, the infallibility and the indefec­tibility of the Catholic Church that he rejects John Paul II and his Conciliar Church.

For the sedevacantist, the Catholic Church cannot and has not failed. The great apostasy predicted by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Thessalonians has taken place:

“Let no one deceive you in any way, for the day of the Lord will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and is exalted above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sits in the temple of God and gives himself out as if he were God…. And now you know what restrains him, that he may be revealed in his proper time. For the mystery of iniquity is already at work; provided only that he who is at present restraining it, does still restrain, until he is gotten out of the way. And then the wicked one will be revealed…” (2 Thess. 2:3-8).

Who is this one “who is at present restraining it… until he is gotten out of the way. And then the wicked one will be revealed”? Perhaps Pope Leo XIII has the answer in his Motu Proprio of Septem­ber 25, 1888, when he wrote in his invoca­tion to St. Michael:

“These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions. In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.”

–Taken from the Reign of Mary Quarterly Magazine, Issue 156

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